Sunday, September 13, 2009

Credulous Media: Bailed Out Companies 'Tighten' Travel Expense Rules?

How easy is it to hornswoggle some reporters these days? Piece of cake.

I'm amazed at current stories credulously reporting that the bailed-out Chrysler company has tightened travel expense account policies, under new federal rules designed to eliminate "excessive" or "luxury" expenditures by companies that got billions in federal bailout dough.

Rather, it says, Chrysler now mandates that employees traveling on business must fly in coach if the flight is less than four hours.

Now, wait a gol' durn minute here, as Mr. Gabby Hayes used to say in the cowboy movies.

Shouldn't that read: After taxpayer bailout, Chrysler employees still allowed to fly first class on coast-to-coast flights? Transcontinental flights, of course, take about five hours.

The stories also inform us that Chrysler business travelers can't charge the $4 or $5 price of an in-flight movie to the company.

Who could?

The only noteworthy restriction is one that affects airport baggage handlers, a group of low-paid workers who are struggling to make ends meet. You can only tip them a miserly $2 per bag. Sure, let's stiff the porters!

Here's the reality. Aside from investment banks and other pillagers of the economy, most companies banned first-class travel on domestic flights many years ago. And many companies (I would venture to guess most) don't even allow business-class travel on most international flights.

The late Walter Cronkite, famously, was not allowed to charge the company to fly first class, back in the days after CBS went from being the "Tiffany" network to "just another company with dirty rugs," as Andy Rooney once wrote. Cronkite either paid for first class himself or depended on the largess of airlines for a free upgrade. I mean, what airline wanted its other customers to see Walter Cronkite wedged into a middle seat in coach?

For ages, most business travelers have been made uncomfortable and inconvenienced (at personal time cost) by drastic corporate cost-cutting on travel expenses. Most business travelers would consider it a huge perk (and a boon to elite-status accounts) to be able to expense a first-class ticket from, say, Boston to Los Angeles.

Chrysler also says traveling employees can only spring for "mid-sized" automobiles when renting a car on the road. Oh, the sacrifice!

Actually, if they didn't have to worry about potential liability costs should you be murdered by a psycho, some companies might well mandate that you hitchhike rather than renting a car at all.

All of the usual suspects in the bailout league -- including AIG, Citigroup, Bank of Americas and GM -- are also required to post their new spending policies, most of them by Monday.

I'd like to hear from readers who have tales of being skin-flinted and squeezed by company travel-spend cutbacks.

When's the last time you were allowed to fly first class?


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